2019 delivered a healthy slate of gifts for NBA fans. A new champion was crowned after back-to-back Finals blowouts, Los Angeles gained a pair of superteams and the chase for the championship is as wide open as perhaps any year since the start of the decade. The talent crop is healthy. Young stars populate the MVP race. Don’t let ancillary ratings debate fool you. The league’s future remains plenty bright.
The year didn’t come without its disappointments, however. The Warriors could have remained a Western Conference power with good health, albeit one on a level playing field. Instead, Golden State is more an extension of Santa Cruz at the moment, zapping one of the league’s premier franchises of serviceable talent. The Knicks remain a disaster. Zion Williamson is out of commission. So what do we hope to see when the calendar turns to the next decade. Check out The Crossover’s 2020 Wish List below.
Steph and Klay Return to Full Strength
Four seasons may seem like an eternity in the current NBA, but have we forgotten just how exciting the non-Durant Warriors were? Steph Curry and Klay Thompson fueled the NBA’s brightest supernova, unleashing a 73-win season as Curry won the MVP in a unanimous vote. Kevin Durant’s arrival in the Bay Area flipped the narrative on the Warriors, turning the lovable crew into the new bullies on the block. His departure (and Achilles injury) opened the title race once again, and also returned Golden State back into a story to root for. A potential redemption tale awaited, but never came to fruition.
The Warriors had a feasible path to contention approaching 2019-20. Curry could still have delivered an All-NBA season, treading water with D’Angelo Russell and Draymond Green until Klay Thompson returned. That plan ended abruptly. The Warriors’ talent void without Thompson was evident even before the bevy of injuries, exacerbated by a broken left hand for Steph Curry at the end of October. The No. 1 pick is now far more likely than the playoffs.
The first year at the Chase Center has been a dud, though the cloud looming over the franchise doesn’t have to last forever. How can Golden State turn it around? The path to contention is pretty clear. Having Curry and Thompson ready for October 2020 is a good start. A top-five draft pick can add much-needed depth (likely in the frontcourt) or be swapped for an asset. Another big chip: D’Angelo Russell. The former Nets’ guard could be the piece to land Golden State an impact wing player, its Andre Iguodala for the next generation. The 2021 Finals are still in play. The Warriors have a blueprint to be in the conversation.
Dallas Acquires a Third Star
As long as we’re dealing with candidates for the 2021 title, why not include Luka Doncic and the Mavericks? Dallas is one of the Western Conference’s best teams through 27 games, sporting the NBA’s top offense along with the No. 3 net rating. Doncic is an MVP candidate at 20. He should bank at least one trophy by 25. Dallas is short an impact player to truly contend for the West crown in 2019-20, but a player of Doncic’s caliber accelerates any franchise’s timeline.
Dallas should have plenty of options for roster improvement in February and beyond. There’s a crop of candidates before the end of this season that could help Dallas, including Iguodala. Maybe Aaron Gordon could slide in as an athletic four as Kristaps Porzingis plays the five. But it would be nice for Dallas to aim a little higher in the summer.
An All-Star two-guard or wing is the ideal acquisition for the Mavericks as they move into phase two with Doncic. It’s a shame Bradley Beal looks to be off the trade market. C.J. McCollum could be pried from Portland, yet there isn’t a deep pool of options. Dallas could target lesser options Joe Harris and Goran Dragic, who are nice players, though perhaps underqualified third stars. Dallas’ best path forward may continue to be through the trade market.
Bucks Find Their Point Guard
The Bucks approach the trade deadline as a team without much mystery. Milwaukee is rolling to the No. 1 seed in the East, and Giannis Antetokounmpo should win his second straight MVP this season. But as the postseason nears, questions regarding the Bucks’ backcourt will emerge. Eric Bledsoe’s struggles sunk Milwaukee in the 2018 playoffs against Boston, and he shot 29.4% from the field in six games against the Raptors last season. Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are Giannis’ central running mates as Malcolm Brogdon lights it up in Indiana. Will the Bucks’ supporting cast hold up when it counts?
Milwaukee has a second route as it eyes the franchise’s first Finals since 1974. The Bucks could likely enter the shallow pool of suitors for Chris Paul, or potentially inquire on Jrue Holiday in New Orleans. Oklahoma City appears to be the more inspired seller, especially if Williamson returns in 2019-20. Cooler heads would discourage the Bucks for jumping at Paul. The aging point guard is owed $41 million next year and $44 in 2021-22, his age-36 season. The risk is obvious.
I’m not so sure the Bucks should play it safe. Paul remains an impressively efficient shooter at 47.1% from the field and 38.3% from three this season, and he’s been a strong playoff performer prior to last season. The Paul-Antetokounmpo two-man game would be lethal. Besides, this is a wishlist, after all. We assumed Paul’s last chance for a championship came in 2018, ruined by a hamstring injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. It would be nice to see one of the greatest point guards in league history receive another chance.
Embiid and Simmons Co-Exist
It would be a shame to see Philadelphia’s dynamic duo split up given each player’s respective talent. There’s enough ability for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to win multiple Eastern Conference crowns in the next few years, if only they can learn to complement one another. The Sixers have been a disaster on that front for the last two years.
Simmons and Embiid have took the my-turn-your-turn dynamic to extreme levels, splitting Philly to almost two teams. There’s the hypercharged, speedy Simmons crew, then the hulking, bruising Embiid lineups. The spacing together is jumbled, and the offensive positioning is maddening. Embiid camps out 25 feet from the basket. Simmons drives headlong into a pool of defenders. Jimmy Butler alleviated the problem last year as a late-game playmaker. Josh Richardson hasn’t filled the void. Philadelphia may be able to win playoff games in a string of rock fights, but through four series, the strategy is tenuous. Perhaps Simmons’ jumper will evolve to acceptable levels. Embiid could show greater efficiency as a late-game playmaker. Simmons and Embiid will never be Stockton and Malone, but maybe they can co-exist just enough to make this partnership last throughout the 2020s.
Zion, Pelicans Trend Upward
The Pelicans swaggered out of the summer like a franchise reborn, losing Anthony Davis and somehow coming out the other side armed with the No. 1 pick and an intriguing young roster. Williamson came to the Pelicans as the clear top pick, and the Duke product wasn’t the only notable talent in New Orleans. Holiday and free-agent addition J.J. Redick anchored the starting lineup, while the ex-Lakers haul of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart gave New Orleans a deep crop of contributing players. Yet for all New Orleans’ new pieces, it seems as though only Ingram has held up his end of the deal. The Pelicans enter Friday 14th in the West at 7–22, losing 13 straight before defeating the Timberwolves on Wednesday.
Injuries have earned a sizable share of the blame. Williamson has yet to play a game and Ball missed much of November. New Orleans defense has taken a subsequent hit with the league’s No. 27 defensive rating. A sleeper playoff pick is sinking fast to the bottom of West standings. So where does the Pelicans go from here? They’d be ill-advised to immediately enter the sellers market. Redick may be a worthy trade piece if New Orleans can get a first-round pick, though Holiday should stick around as Williamson’s running mate through 2021-22. The Pelicans should attempt to keep a passable team around Zion when he’s ready to take the floor. Let’s hope the Pelicans stay cautious at the trade deadline, then return to respectability as Williamson plays down the stretch in March and April 2020.